The Chicago Blackhawks' to-do list for this season included winning the Central Division title, finishing first in the Western Conference, capturing the Presidents' Trophy as the regular-season champion, and earning a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
After accomplishing all of those tasks, there's one item left on their list: Bring the Stanley Cup back to Chicago.
The Blackhawks earned a chance to do that Saturday by defeating the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in overtime to wrap up a five-game victory in the Western Conference Final. The only team remaining between Chicago and regaining the Cup it won in 2010 is the team that succeeded the Blackhawks as champion: the Boston Bruins, who swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final.
Like the Bruins, the Blackhawks got one scare during their three playoff rounds, overcoming a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Semifinals one round after the Bruins blew a 3-1 series lead and had to overcome a 4-1 third-period deficit to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7.
Each finalist breezed in its other two series. Chicago defeated the Minnesota Wild and the Kings in five games; the Bruins eliminated the New York Rangers in five games before sweeping the Penguins.
"They're on an amazing roll," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "They've got a lot of momentum where they are now -- should set up for a great Final."
The Bruins and Blackhawks did not play each other during the regular season. They've faced each other eight times since 2004, with the Bruins winning six, including the past two.
"I think everybody was speculating about that -- how would it play out," Quenneville said of the truncated 48-game schedule that limited all 30 teams to intraconference play. "I'm sure we'll get to see Boston quite a bit, and I'm sure they watched every bit of our games."
Nor do the Blackhawks and Bruins have a lengthy history in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Though the teams entered the NHL in the mid-1920s, they are meeting for the seventh time in the postseason, the first since Boston's 4-0 sweep in the 1978 quarterfinals. Boston has won five of its previous six series against Chicago; the Blackhawks' victory was in a three-game preliminary-round matchup in 1975.
This is the first time they've met in the Final.
"It's a special couple of places," Quenneville said. "The tradition of the Bruins and the Hawks and their towns is special. I'm sure the rivalry could return instantly come Game 1.
"It's good for the League. It's good for hockey. [It's] two great hockey markets, and we're excited to be a part of it."
It's also the first all-Original Six final since 1979, when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Rangers in five games.
The Blackhawks will have the advantage of playing the first two games at United Center, where they are 9-1 this postseason and won 27 of 34 games during the regular season and playoffs.
"The best part about it is we get to start at home, where we've been good all year," Kane told CBC after the win Saturday. "We fought all year to get that home-ice advantage, so it's nice to stay here in Chicago and start the next two games here."
Should the series go to Game 7, the Blackhawks would play that at home; they are 5-2 in Game 7s in Chicago. Boston is 1-4 on the road in Game 7, but the victory came two years ago when they defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 to win the Stanley Cup. Boston is 5-2 away from TD Garden in these playoffs.
Boston is 3-0-2 in its past five visits to Chicago; the last time it didn't get a point was an 8-5 loss on March 9, 2003. The Bruins have won three of the past four meetings at TD Garden, including a 3-0 victory in the most recent, March 29, 2011.
Each team's goaltender has excelled this spring, but neither has much history against the other team.
This is Tuukka Rask's first full season as the Bruins' starter; he allowed one goal and did not get a decision in his only career appearance against the Blackhawks. Chicago's Corey Crawford is 0-1-1 with a 2.40 goals-against average in two appearances against Boston.
"They're a great team," Crawford said of the Bruins. "They play physical, obviously they have some skill, some big shots from the point -- well-rounded team, so we've got to be ready."
Few Bruins have a substantial history against the Blackhawks. Trade-deadline acquisition Jaromir Jagr has been by far the most successful; the wing has 13 goals and 27 points in 25 games but was scoreless against the Blackhawks in two games with the Dallas Stars this season.
Of the players who spent the season with Boston, only defensemen Andrew Ference (22 games; 0-5-5) and Zdeno Chara (16 games; 1-3-4) have played more than 10 games against Chicago. No Bruins player who has seen action this postseason has played for Chicago during his career.
The Chicago player with the most experience against Boston is forward Marian Hossa, who spent much of his career in the Eastern Conference. Hossa has 16 goals and 38 points in 45 career games against the Bruins. Defensemen Johnny Oduya (21 games; 1-4-5) and Michal Rozsival (34 games; 3-9-12) are the other regulars who've played more than 14 games against Boston. No Blackhawks player who's played this postseason has suited up for Boston.
The Bruins were the underdog in the Eastern Conference Final and figure to be again against the Blackhawks, who finished 15 points ahead of them in the 48-game regular season (77-62).
"I guess it's a little easier to be the underdog, just from the public perception. I think what happens is, is our guys respect the opponent. Sometimes that turns into an underdog scenario, you guys [media] make it that," Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli said Saturday. "Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But we respect our opponent, and that's important because at any given night you can be beaten by any team.
"Any given night, so our guys have to respect the opponent. That's what happens, that's reflected in their comments. Sometimes it turns into an underdog scenario. I don't think it's anything more than that, I don't think we're trying to create that. It's just respecting the opponent."
Author: John Kreiser | NHL.com Columnist
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